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Hungary Looking for a Renewable Spot in the Sun

Although Hungary is a small country, all moves toward greater energy efficiency should be encouraged, especially with scientists warning the clock is ticking towards midnight, and unless urgent action is taken humanity will face devastating challenges due to climate change.

Hungary is rich in renewable energy potential as solar, wind, biomass and thermal energy are all easily accessible for the CEE country. Combined with the creation of smart cities, these factors can contribute to a greener and more pleasant future.

“There is an energy age change in Hungary right now,” Regina Kurucz, architect, building energy expert, building energy assessor and member of the Hungary Green Building Council (HuGBC) tells the Budapest Business Journal.

“The change has been divided in five phases between 2006 and 2021. From 2019 to 2021 we are living in the fourth phase, where new public buildings already have to be nearly net zero energy buildings with 25% renewable energy, while other new buildings have to fulfill the requirement to be cost-effective,” she explains.

After 2021 only nearly net zero energy buildings (known as NZEB) can be built. While new buildings fulfill the requirement of NZEB and 25% renewable energy, Kurucz points to the country’s existing building stock, much of it built before 1970.

This, she says, plays an important role in climate change, producing around 36% of CO2 emissions and around 40% of primary energy consumption. The CO2 emission of a 60-80 year old building can be reduced to 15-20% with state of the art technologies.

“There is a huge capacity in the renovation of buildings built before 1970. Hungary’s CO2 emission can only change significantly by renovating the old building stock,” she adds.

Third-phase Implementation

Solar energy in the form of photovoltaic (PV) systems is not just popular in Hungary but has chiefly become mainstream. Kurucz believes Hungary is in the third phase of implementation in terms of solar energy.

The first phase is when pioneers add new solutions despite high installation and maintenance costs. The second phase is when priority projects like public buildings or local businesses commit to delivering technical refinement and better service networks.  

“The third phase is becoming mainstream, when it is unimaginable to refrain from new technology and local service networks are prepared for the demand. This is the case with PV panels in Hungary right now, it is an implicit part of new buildings and there are incentives in case of renovations in the form of 0% loans for households,” Kurucz adds.

Despite Hungary being rich in geothermal energy, using geothermal hot water can only be sustainable if the cool water could be securely and economically returned to the cycle in an adequate injection well. Today, this is an obstacle that makes energy from geothermal water sources expensive, according to Kurucz.

Regina Kurucz

“However, ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps are also popular in case of low-energy demand buildings. Biomass CHP (combined heat and power) plants can provide both heat and power in one single, highly efficient process as an energy source for fourth generation district heating,” she adds.

The emergence of smart cities is also becoming highly timely; such settlements can significantly boost economic growth, can operate sustainably and can offer the best possible living standards to residents. Nevertheless, no smart city can operate without the extensive use of renewable energy, such as solar or wind, the most recent study by Deloitte has found.

It is a big challenge for utility companies to harmonize their legacy infrastructure with the most modern methods, says Csaba Mező, partner and head of Deloitte Hungary’s Energy Sector, in answer to a BBJ inquiry.

He underscores, however, that international examples clearly show that the use of renewable energy solutions boost the economy and make settlements more sustainable, especially as such an environment can further foster electromobility; the spread of electric vehicles.

Such a change is as much essential as it is welcome, as 70% of the world’s energy consumption is taken up by cities, which are in tight symbiosis with utility providers, the Deloitte study says. These companies play a crucial role in making a city smart, as they are directly connected to end-users. Therefore, by helping spread smart solutions, utility companies are not only the drivers of such a change, but also the educators shaping the mindset of societies.

Deloitte suggests that the first step utility companies should make is installing sensors of all kinds for collecting, storing, analyzing and using data. According to Deloitte, a utility company can only build a smart city responsively if it can understand and utilize the collected data.

Come Together

Mező also notes, however, that utilities firms are not capable of creating smart cities alone. What is required is an ecosystem where national, regional and city authorities and utility companies, researchers, investors and tech solutions providers all come together with residents, collaborating on mutually changing their way of living.

Kurucz accepts that, but has a slightly different take. “Our main goal should not be to use more renewable energy but to use less fossil-based energy,” she says. “We can cut our energy demand by improving energy efficiency, for example insulating the old building stock and renovating their outdated heating and cooling systems. Around 90% of today’s building stock will still be in use in 2050; therefore, we cannot reduce CO2 emissions without focusing on buildings already in use,” she says.

“Renewable energy should be our last remedy. First, we should reduce the energy consumption e.g. with the help of insulating the building envelope in case of existing buildings or reducing summer heat load with the use of shading systems. Secondly, we should use passive energy, e.g. passive solar energy in the wintertime and natural night vent cooling in the summertime. Only the third step should be thinking how to cover the reduced energy demand,” Kurucz concludes.